April 22 here in Portage and it is snowing. Not with any serious intentions. More a reminder of which season is most miserable for and controlling of human life and behavior. We’ll soon head north across the bridge and I have been thinking about what the draw is for this annual progress. Fifteen years ago in The Snowfly, I wrote of the north. The character Bowie Rhodes is thinking as he was driving. “North, I knew deep down, was where I belonged, north being as much a philosophy as a direction or destination. You knew when you were there, or you didn’t. Those who couldn’t feel it and embrace it generally only tried it once. You fit or you didn’t. The basic law of nature was the law of the unexpected. In the woods, or on a fast river, you were attuned to this; at home, in a job, in relationships, you were not, yet nature pertained in all settings to all species in one way or another. North was the home of the unexpected. North spawned chilled chaos, yet it warmed my heart.”
This isn’t to say I don’t like the South. I do. I lived in North Carolina, Virginia, Texas, and Oklahoma as a kid growing up and I liked all of them, though I was too young to really remember N.C.
What really sticks to me is the allure of small towns hacked out of the woods.In re-reading Wm Least-Heat Moon’s wonderful classic Prairyerth I a ran across a passage that expresses my sense of small towns quite succinctly in a small-town slow rolling way. Heat (1939-) is a nom de plume (his “pen name”). The writer’s more “Erthly handle” is William Lewis Trogdon. He was in a café in Chase County Kansas, and asked the owner whether the lack of privacy wasn’t the worst thing about a small town and she replied, “And also the best. I love going to the post office in the morning and knowing everybody. The only time we honk a car horn is with a wave. It’s touching when someone asks about my son or my dad’s health. We can’t afford not to care about other people in a place this small. Our survival, in a way, depends on minimizing privacy because the lack of it draws us into each others’ lives, and that’s a major resource in a little town where there aren’t a thousand entertainments. There’s an elderly man who lost his little granddaughter to a drunk, hit-and-run driver, a few months ago. Every time the old gentleman comes into the Emma Chase (the name of the café), he retells the story and every time people listen. What’s that worth to a person? Or to a community. A café like this serves to bond us.” In L’Anse eight miles downhill and north of us, the two eateries like this are the Hilltop and The Nite Owl, which is more of a breakfast place. I’ve lived in or around small towns much of my life and loved them all. Rhinecliff, Rudyard, Deer Park, Alberta. The scenery may vary but the toughness and straightforwardness of the people doesn’t vary much at all. Moon said in his book in 1991 that 70 percent of Americans lived on 2 percent of the land.” I’m guessing that front number is even higher now as cities puff out like turf-sucking adders and small towns board up and disappear under the regional assaults of Walmart and other commercial chain dragons bent on killing all opposition as quickly and heartlessly as possible.
Now it’s true that the small-town “mindset can pertain to city segments or neighborhoods of larger communities but those places are more often surrounded by more such locations and thousands upon thousands of people, not to mention tens of thousands of passing-throughs, and almost none such places are surrounded by forests or neighbored-up with wild animals the way the U.P. is.
Not exactly rocket-science thinking, but then my mind doesn’t drift in that direction very often.
Every time we cross the bridge into the U.P we can feel the different, cleaner air filtering through us, and within the first week or so we know we’ll have our first encounters with the local wolf packs ( we live between two of them), a wandering bear, or moose on the loose. We’ll settle into our routine, me up at 0400 and writing, and afternoons filled with marauding the local hills and streams on foot. Probably the water levels will have most creeks and rivers unfishable for an old man wading until later in May, but we can wait and if I can’t, I can always cross over to the pond and pretend I know what I’m doing, to sit on the bank on a cool day warmed by memories of life’s special moments.
It’s good to have things to look forward to, including a place to sit in the sun and remember the old passions that burned so bright.
Sadly, we anticipate departure in a new old vehicle, yet unnamed and unpossessed. You see, the 15-year-old Green Streamer is no more. After more than 220,000 miles I pulled all the flies out of the ceiling yesterday afternoon, and stripped out all the emergency cargo for placement in the replacement, so to speak.
I will try to keep a more regular blog this summer but there can be no promises. Fishing and other writings will take precedence, and drawing with my colored pencils. I am feeling particularly separated from painting and art at the moment and feeling a powerful urge to get back to addressing canvases with bold colors and interesting shapes. We shall see.